If your child needs therapy – and let’s face it, kids of divorce would all benefit from some uninterrupted time to share their feelings with a neutral third party – here’s a primer for how to go about finding the right person.
Since you’re reading this blog, chances are good that you may have experienced some complicated co-parenting in your divorced family. And if that’s the case, then it might seem daunting to go in search of a therapist for your child.
The other parent may feel threatened, thinking you’ll use this as an opportunity to get them in trouble or take them to court. Or you may have different ideas about what makes a good therapist. If you haven’t agreed on much before now, what would make this pursuit easy, right?
That’s why we’re here. To make co-parenting easier and successful for the benefit of your children.
Step 1. Balance out the cost of therapy vs. the need for it
Some families have great insurance and a low deductible and won’t pay much for therapy. That makes it an easy decision to go forward.
However, many families have high deductibles or no mental health coverage on their insurance. Plus, it seems like most child therapists accept only a couple of insurance plans, so it can be hard to find someone who is covered.
If this is your situation, it’s important to determine if therapy is absolutely necessary. Determine priorities – is one child acting our or experiencing severe anxiety or depression? Is one of your children engaged in self-harm or suicidal ideation?
If the answer is yes, there is absolutely no question, you must get your child into therapy. That’s very dangerous and scary.
If there is no urgent demand, but you just feel that therapy would be beneficial, do as much research as is needed to find someone you can afford or who your insurance will pay for.
Step 2. Understand what therapy can (and can’t) do
Be realistic about what is possible in therapy. There is no magic wand to make everything better. Your family will still require tremendous work from both parents to support the child and help them lead a healthy life.
If you think your little one, age 2-5, needs therapy, the only therapy for that age group is play therapy and it’s very time-limited. It’s to help them adjust.
Therapy is one resource, as part of a larger solution. It’s also important to work with the school, school counselor, teachers and principal, to support a child. When people get divorced, it is important to reach out to the professionals working with your child to let them know what’s going on.
Do this also whenever there is a change in the parenting time schedule or a recent conflict that blew up between the parents. It is so helpful when professionals working with children daily have a window into what’s going on with the child at home.
Step 3. Apply filters
First, apply your filters. Think of shopping online – I want a pair of black shoes that cost less than $100, so I set filters on a website so that I only see shoes in that category. Do the same when shopping for a therapist.
Do you feel it’s important to have a male or female therapist? Do you have insurance? If so, look for therapists that accept your coverage.
Review your deductible and know what is expected from you out-of-pocket. See if you can use HSA or FSA dollars toward therapy.
Consider location – you’re going to be there often! Children need in-person therapy to build safe and fruitful connections, so find a therapist who is seeing patients in-person at this time.
After you apply filters, visit websites and Psychology Today profiles, read ratings and reviews, get a feel for the person and their therapy practice. Make sure both you and your ex apply your own filters and prioritize them – and be ready to compromise if something is super important to the other person and not so much to you.
Step 4. This must be a coordinated effort
The way I recommend choosing a therapist can be applied to a lot of things – choosing a camp, choosing childcare, choosing a pediatrician, any big life decisions you must make for your children.
Choose about six people and divide the list so each of you contacts three. Make a list of standard questions to ask, so you get comparable answers and you can compare apples to apples.
After you conduct your research, reconnect with your ex and discuss which is your top choice and why. Then decide who will call each of the top choices and have a conversation.
Let them know you are divorced, and your ex might contact them as well, that you both want to be involved in the process. If they’re open to that and willing, then you know they’re comfortable working with a divorced family. If they hesitate, cross them off your list!
Right now, child therapists are swamped and many have waiting lists, so it’s good to have more than one top choice.
Ask about how they work with a divorced family – does the therapist conduct an individual intake with each parent, or as a family together? How will the latter work, if that is the case? What is communication like? Will the therapist be in touch with both of you?
Step 5. Manage everything as a team
This may sound hard, but it’s worth striving for.
Alternate taking the child to appointments, so you’re both involved and have face-to-face contact with the therapist. You’re also showing your child that you both value the therapy and support this and want to see them get help.
I appreciate when a child therapist uses their time with the child and if there are things to discuss with the parents, in particular with divorced parents in sensitive situations, the therapist can send a brief email copying both parents openly so everybody is in the loop or set up a conference call or zoom with them. Ask about this up front!!
A Few Last Words
Do not go through the process of hiring a child therapist for your legal battle or for the purpose of having a professional say that the child should not see the other parent or have less time with them.
If you’re really putting your child first, the focus should be on getting them the support they need, by an objective party, so your child is not caught in the middle and triangulated between parents.
Any good child therapist who recognizes that there may be issues in one of the homes or if parenting time needs to be restructured for the child’s well-being, knows it should be initiated by the therapist.
Putting therapists in the position of “I’m hiring you because I want to prove that my ex shouldn’t have the kids as much” will run far from that situation!
They choose this profession because their heart and soul is dedicated to helping children. Their priority should be the therapeutic relationship with the child.
Never sign a kid up for therapy and start taking them to a therapist without consulting with the other parent. Once a month is not enough for a therapist to have a therapeutic relationship with a child. Don’t put limits on the other parent or the therapy to exert control. Let the therapist guide the treatment plan.
After all, don’t you want your child to come out of this better and healthier than before?